By Jake MacAndrew and Racy Rafique
A June 2022 independent external workplace investigation found that Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union (TMSU) president Marina Gerges did not engage in workplace harassment as previously alleged by TMSU employees, executive director Reanna Maharaj told The Eyeopener in an email on Thursday.
Maharaj said complaints were made against Gerges in June 2022 over alleged incidents that happened in May 2022.
The investigation, which concluded in October 2022, found the management—which refers to Gerges in this case—did not engage in workplace harassment under either the TMSU’s own policies or Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, said Maharaj in the same email to The Eye.
“Management direction is not in itself harassment, even if it is unpleasant for an employee,” she said.
Gerges mentioned the investigation in a three-minute video uploaded to her re-election campaign Instagram account late Wednesday night. In the video, she said she called for the investigation in response to a leaked staff letter posted to Reddit in June 2022 that alleged Gerges was “extremely toxic, dangerous and racist,” as previously reported by The Eye.
The letter detailed events involving Gerges, including the alleged use of the term “FOB”—which means “Fresh Off The Boat”—a derogatory term used toward racialized people and those with language barriers. The letter also outlined other alleged behaviour, including vaping on prohibited grounds and cancelling meetings abruptly.
Gerges detailed the workplace harassment investigation in her Instagram video, which involved an independent external workplace investigator who reviewed relevant documents and conducted interviews with everyone involved.
“I knew that calling a workplace harassment investigation would get me specifics,” said Gerges in the video. “If people wanted to make such strong accusations about [my] reputation, then they needed to provide proof and they needed to come with their stories—they needed to be very specific.”
Gerges originally addressed the Reddit post at the Semi-Annual General Meeting last January, saying that she was wrongfully targeted.
“Last January, I decided to run for president of an organization that I knew had a history of financial and governance issues. But I was naive,” said Gerges at the meeting. “I did not know the levels certain people would go to target those who are trying to create a different students’ union.”
Gerges claimed there has been no evidence presented to support the allegations against her in the internal letter posted to Reddit.
“This letter was sent to the Board and it happened two weeks into my term when we were all still online, working from home where I only conversed with staff through emails and zoom calls,” Gerges said in a phone call with The Eye. “All of which would have made it really easy to get some proof to show that I was racist—if it existed.”
She alleged that the employees accusing her did so because they were stuck in the TMSU’s old ways—a time she said was riddled with financial mismanagement and scandals.
“They want us to go back to spending money for our own personal benefits and not for students,” said Gerges.
Gerges referenced the 2019 Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) scandal that involved the executive team spending over $250,000 on the union’s credit cards without Board approval, as previously reported by The Eye.
Former vice-president equity Areesha Qureshi recently resigned from the Board of Directors (BoD), citing a “toxic” work environment. She was the fourth TMSU member to resign in the 2022-23 year, with former vice president operations Salar Syed making similar complaints against the TMSU before his resignation in August 2022, as reported by The Eye.
“The last few months have been extremely challenging,” adding that the TMSU has “not been able to achieve anything impactful,” Syed previously told The Eye in an email upon his resignation.
Syed accused Gerges of throwing him “under the bus” at the June BoD meeting after Gerges revealed she was working on distributing emergency grants despite that initiative being under “the portfolio of VP operations.”
Syed claimed during the meeting that he was told by Gerges to stop working on it. “If you ordered [me] to stop that means you should say that, Marina. The president ordered [me] to stop.”
In a phone interview with The Eye, Gerges said when the harassment allegations initially came out, the first thing she wanted to do was release a statement. But after listening to the advice of her peers, she decided to not bring attention to it to see if it would die down on its own.
“It’s been so long and people are still talking about it,” said Gerges. She added this is what impacted her decision to finally speak up.
Maharaj told The Eye that the investigation report will not be made public due to the TMSU’s human resources confidentiality policies.
With files from Gabriela Silva Ponte, Edward Djan, Aneem Alozzi, Sherina Harris and Emma Sandri